Thinking Maps: Guest Post!

Good morning everyone! Today I have my first guest post! I was so impressed when I read this. It is so thorough and informative!

Today’s guest post comes from Heather, she has been teaching 3rd grade for over 8 years and has a Masters Degree in Secondary and Professional Studies.  She is a regular contributor to Teacher Lingo and to The Mailbox Magazine as a freelance writer.  You can often find Heather writing for, where teachers can buy and sell their original lesson plans, worksheets, and more. 

Please give her some love with your comments! :)

Many of your students have heads full of creative ideas, but getting those ideas on paper in an organized manner is often a difficult task. At the beginning stages of the writing process, thinking maps can be an invaluable tool to help your students start their writing on the right track. Thinking maps can be used with virtually any writing prompt or task and may even determine the task by helping students determine the best way to present information.

How Can Thinking Maps Help Organize Your Students' Writing?

Choosing a Topic
One of the most difficult parts of the writing process for students comes before the actual writing begins – choosing a topic. Even when given a prompt or topic to write about, students must choose the angle to focus on or narrow down the topic to something that can be adequately discussed in a two or three-page paper. A simple thinking map may have a student brainstorm 10 possible topics or angles for a paper and then choose three of the topics from the list to expand on. From there, students can list subtopics or details that would be included in a paper about each topic and make the final topic choice.

Outlining a Paper

When a student is writing about a broad topic or is particularly enthusiastic about a topic, it is tempting to include every single piece of interesting information in a piece of writing. Using a thinking map to outline a piece of writing will help a student avoid including every fascinating fact or detail he finds and bring focus to a paper before it has started. The type of map used will depend on the length and purpose of a student’s paper. For example, when writing a persuasive paper, a student may list the main argument and three or four reasons to support that argument.  When writing a short story, the student may create a brief description of the story’s plot. Thinking maps may also be used to organize paragraphs individually rather than an entire paper.

Types of Thinking Maps

A variety of thinking maps can be used to help organize a student’s thoughts and outline writing. While some tasks may call for a specific thinking map or you may want students to use a certain thinking map for an assignment, the overall goal is to get students to use thinking maps on their own. After introducing students to the different types of thinking maps, they should be able to choose an appropriate thinking map for  a task.
The main types of thinking maps are circle maps, bubble maps, tree maps and flow maps. Both circle maps and bubble maps are best for helping students get ideas down on paper and narrowing down topics. Tree maps and flow maps are designed to help students organize their thoughts in a logical sequence, either by outlining paragraph topics or creating the sequence of a story or how-to piece.

Analyzing Writing

While thinking maps are traditionally used to help students organize their own writing, they can also be used to teach students about the components of quality pieces of writing. After reading a sample essay or short story, students can pull out information and details from a piece of writing to fill out a tree map or flow chart for that piece. The texts students use for this task do not have to be professional or perfect. In fact, having students use thinking maps to analyze texts with organizational problems will help them understand what a disorganized text looks and sounds like, making it easier to avoid the problem in their own papers.

Thank you Heather and for contacting me about this fabulous guest post! You all should definitely visit this site! There are so many resources for teachers. 

Math "Snapshot" for addition

Remember when I posted about my guided reading "snapshot" way back when? It's been one of my most popular posts and downloads ever, and I had some requests to make one for math. These "snapshots" are meant to be a communication tool with parents. They also help me look really objectively and specifically at a student's skills. I would use these as a performance assessment. I have students at all different skill levels, as I'm sure you do. Some are still using fingers to add and only use counting on as a strategy. Others have figured out how to "make ten" and use doubles plus one and all that. Some can add very well and use tons of strategies to do so, but still struggle with story problems that aren't totally basic ("how many in all" type questions). I wanted to find a way to communicate my observations with parents in a simple way. Here are two different formats:

This one is more rubric style:

For this one, you would circle in each section:

So I need your help! I made two "rough drafts" and I wanted to get your input. These are just for addition. I thought about what I looked for when assessing my students and this is what I came up with. Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot of one math skill. I used the common core standards to guide me. It made me realize that I could make a ton of these to cover all the standards. This one doesn't even totally cover all the addition standards for first grade, but it's a start (it's where most of my students are right now).
Also, I wasn't sure if my wording worked. Is it too "teachery" for parents? And am I getting way too specific? Would it make sense for parents (especially in the strategies section that talks about "making ten" and "doubles plus one") Also, did I miss anything really important? More than anything, would you use this?

So... please give me any feedback you have. 
I will be posting this as a freebie after I've tweaked it so it's just right. :) I know you all have good ideas out there and you know what you are looking for while assessing your students. Your feedback will be so helpful!

Groundhog Shadow Investigation

Yesterday I posted about my groundhog mini-unit, along with a groundhog shadow investigation. I've used this same format for other experiments and investigations, and I got a fabulous suggestion a while back to change the wording a bit. I never got around to it for whatever reason. After doing another investigation today with my students (I'll post about it later), I realized that I really needed to change it. Am I so annoying?! I'm always "updating" things! Can I chalk it up to trial and error? I can't help myself, though. I always want to make things better for my students. Thank you for all your suggestions and support. I truly love hearing your thoughts and feedback! :)

Here is a preview of my groundhog mini-unit:

I use this "popping through words" as a whole group activity. I put magnetic dots on the back of the letter tiles and the board. Then I put a groundhog on the stick. I make different words and students come up and take turns being the groundhog to sound out the word. I left the middle blank so that you could put a regular vowel or a vowel pair or a bossy r. 

You can find my groundhog mini-unit HERE.

Have a good night everyone! 

Groundhog Day Unit

February is right around the corner and that means that we need to start planning for Groundhog Day! I made this little mini-pack last year. 

 We were working on making predictions last year during this time so I thought I'd combine Groundhog Day with this reading skill (naturally since the groundhog predicts our weather and all). 
I made two different format for you to choose from. 
~You could make it into a literacy center with laminated cards for students to read and a student sheet to fill out.
You could use these student sheets for  a whole class lesson and some extra practice throughout the week. There are six different pages. I used this during one of my observations last year. I read a groundhog book where we practiced making predictions as a class before and during the book. As we read, we adjusted our predictions. (Keep in mind I had already introduced the word with an anchor chart prior to this lesson). Then I modeled using one of the student sheets with the class "helping" me make a prediction. We talked about parts of the text that helped us make those predictions. Then we used another one for guided practice. For the next few days students got more practice using the rest of the sheets. Each time we discussed our predictions and parts of the text that helped us make our predictions. 

There is also a little nonfiction passage for your kiddos. I included an anticipation guide (great pre-reading activity), comprehension questions, and two graphic organizers. (I actually used the can, have, do chart with another nonfiction book though.)

This is a fun interactive word making activity. Students can make the groundhog "pop up" to read the words. 

Here is a little preview of the rest of the pack. 

My favorite activity that I created one day on a whim (I love unplanned student-inspired activities)

You can get this pack at my TPT store.

100th Day Freebies

I don't have my 100th day for another month or so, but I know a lot of you are celebrating it right about now. I shared these last year, but I wanted to post them again just in case you missed them. 

You can get download these freebies HERE:

Here are some other activities that I'll be doing on the 100th day of school:

Jenn from Finally in First has some super cute ideas including 100 year portraits. You must check these out if you haven't already seen them!

Kelley from Teacher Idea Factory has ADORABLE 100th day hat.  She is too cute! What a creative idea. :)

What are you doing for the 100th day? I'd love to hear from you! :)

Jan Brett Literacy Activities (update and a FREEBIE!)

It's almost Jan Brett time! I LOVE Jan Brett books! Her books have been always been among my favorites. Last year, I put together a pack of literacy activities that I've been doing with my class over the years. Last weekend I updated it a tad.

Here's a preview of this pack:

Activities for The Mitten:

Activities for The Hat:

To see this craftivity, click on the picture below:

More Literacy activities for  The Hat 

 Hedgie's Surprise and Trouble with Trolls


Annie and the Animals and The First Dog

Moles and Hedgehogs nonfiction activities

Literacy Centers:

We're talking about cause and effect in my class next week, so I thought I'd share that freebie with you. Click on the pictures to download.


You can get this literacy pack at my TPT store 

Verb Craftivity freebie- Ten on a Sled

This week we did one of my favorite activities! Remember this little craftivity I created last year? 

Yes, it's the one that makes me laugh out loud STILL! Hilarious, right? Well, it's also a great lesson to do with your students and, trust me, people with comment, giggle, and love this on your hallway bulletin boards. There is something about a teacher who is so NOT crafty trying to put together a craft like this. I had my fabulous teaching partner Judy redo the coat for me so it wasn't so lopsided. It looks MUCH better now. To see last year's version, click here. :)

This craftivity goes with the fabulous book Ten on a Sled by Kim Norman.

Here's what I wrote about it last year:
I read this cute book called Ten on a Sled by Kim Norman. My kids loved the rhyming, alliteration, repetitive language, and great illustrations. But what stood out was the verbs! To give a little background, 10 animals are all on a sled. One by one, each animal falls off the sled. To describe how they fall off the author uses alliteration and creative verbs (the walrus whirled off). Of course this was the best time to introduce verbs!

So I made a quick anchor chart (nothing fancy) and we went back to identify the verbs that went with each animal. One of my brilliant kiddos shouts out "but Stella slid off!" Hold up now! Great idea right? We put all our names on chart paper, then together thought of verbs that would go with our names if we were in the story. I was so impressed and they were so excited.

(Here's my chart from this year)

Next came the craftivity. The top of the bulletin board says: 

There were 17 on the sled and the teacher said...
(the real version says, "There were 10 on the sled and the caribou said...")

Then each student makes this with their name and the verb that works with their name.

I promise this will make a lot more sense once you read the book. And you MUST read the book. It's SO good!

One of my favorite bloggers is having a grammar linky party. Yes, it's the fabulous Lori from Teaching with Love and Laughter. Everything she makes is wonderful and I'm pretty sure I've purchased everything in her TPT shop. So... I'm hoping this little verb craftivity counts as a grammar idea so I can link up with the fabulous Lori. :)

 Click on the picture below to join the party and see other great ideas!

Bear and Friends Book Study updated

This week I started my bear unit in science. To go along with it, we read all the bear books by Karma Wilson. I LOVE these books. My students love the rhyming, the repetitive refrain, and the fun story lines. The illustrations by Jane Chapman are fabulous too! A couple weeks ago, I finished updating my Bear and Friends unit with some new (to me) clip art. 

(cave clip art by: Doodle Darlins)
Frames by KPM doodles and  Annie Moffatt 

This literacy pack has so many activities! I will not get to all of them, of course, but I like to have the variety so I can pick and choose. Plus I wanted you to have options so that you could choose skills that you wanted to focus on. Many of the skills in this pack are review for my class, so these activities serve as extra practice (which we all need). Some of the activities are new skills, so I'll spend some more time focusing on those and giving some more instruction around it. The skills/activities in this pack are very similar to those found in my Jan Brett unit and my fairy tales unit. That way, my students are sure to get some much needed practice! 

Here's a peek inside this pack:

You can get this pack by clicking on the store of your choice below: